Migraine-Like Headaches With MS
Sometimes it can seem like a migraine is building, but another MS-related event is really to blame for the pain in your head. It’s important to learn how to distinguish between possible causes, since different pain can call for different treatment approaches:
- Optic neuritis. MS lesions often occur in the optic nerve, which connects the retina to the brain. The pain and pressure caused by these lesions can feel remarkably similar to the intense, throbbing eye pain many migraine sufferers experience. However, this pain can be blamed on a swollen optic nerve, not the classic misfiring in the brain that is thought to cause migraine headaches.
- Depression. Deep-reaching mental disorders can manifest in many physical ways, including headaches. As is the case with many chronic illnesses, the rate of depression is higher among MS patients, which means they are more likely to experience pain related to anxiety or depression, too.
- Midbrain lesions. MS lesions that occur near the trigeminal nerve may be linked to migraines and cluster headaches, as well as the severe facial pain (known as trigeminal neuralgia) that is unfortunately common in MS sufferers. It follows that pressure and interference in this region of the brain could cause a range of pain, though you may be tempted to attribute it to migraine.
Treating Migraines in MS
First and foremost, communicate with your doctor often. Headaches and migraines are often overlooked in favor of the more prominent MS symptoms, like numbness, weakness or spasticity. If you begin to experience headaches all of a sudden, they change in nature or frequency, or you suspect migraine, visit your doctor for a thorough examination.
- Know your triggers. Understanding migraine triggers can help you avoid the headaches in the first place, and a pain journal will help you keep track of your triggers alongside your MS symptoms. Record specific details, like what you were doing or eating when the headache hit, the time of day and how long the migraine lasted, and what treatment (if any) helped. A comprehensive pain record will help your doctor determine a promising treatment plan that meshes with your MS management.
- Experiment with treatment. Migraines are notoriously tricky to treat, but a bit of patience and perseverance can go a long way to a better wellbeing. You may need to try a few different combinations of medications and complementary treatments before you find the best approach, and you may need to tweak your treatment for each individual headache. Your doctor might start you with Triptans, the class of drugs that are often most effective for migraine pain, but other pain relievers could work well, too. The key is to pay close attention to how the medications are working and where they might be falling short, and relay your findings to your doctor or neurologist.
- Rest your body and mind. Rest and relaxation are important for stress relief, and stress relief will help you defend against migraines and MS symptoms. But sleep can also be a powerful tool for migraine management. Some people find that going to sleep in a dark, cool space can shorten the duration of an attack, and a long nap after a migraine can help relieve some of the residual symptoms, like irritability, fatigue and confusion.
Any effective treatment begins with an accurate headache diagnosis, and works with your current regimen of MS medications without causing problems. Managing your MS as well as possible will help you stay energetic and prepared for any headache pain that arises, and that means you can take more control of your comfort and quality of life.